Confusion’s Confessions…on Economics, Africa, Travel, Work, Life, and Ideas, by Erin Wendt

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March 12, 2010: Weekly Wrap-up

General observations and witty remarks:

  • My favorite thing about Kenya so far: Being called “Sister Obama”! I’ll probably get back of the States thinking 1) I’m black and 2) I’m related to the president!
  • The other day I wasn’t feeling terribly great and consequently wasn’t hungry. In my head pops my mom’s voice saying “Eat your food! There are starving children in Africa!” Then I thought…” But mom, I’m in Africa…” No idea why, but it made me giggle.
  • My host family has never had cheese before. They’re missing out on “Behold[ing] the power of cheese!!"
  • I think I’ve been more productive in the last three days of work than I have been the two months preceding my trip.
  • Occasionally I’ll be struck by the thought of something comforting at home that we don’t have here – like cheese and strawberries, or air conditioning and DVD players. Strangely, I don’t really miss it – only think how weird it will be to have when I do get home.

March 11, 2010: Work, Work, Work

Today was very different yet again. I left this morning to go on a crazy adventure with my coworker Josephat to visit three of the microfinance groups. (Warning – I only made it to two of the groups…) We took bodabodas to the first group that was in town. Despite the fact that the meeting was supposed to start at 9, it was 9:30 before the meeting started and 10 o’clock before everyone showed up (if they showed up at all). All in all though, most everyone met their necessary savings deposit and several made payments on their remaining loan balance. It was very informative and I managed to make a fool of myself only once when asked to introduce myself (I attempted Kiswahili – yikes!). Then it was a bumpy matatu ride, followed by another vehicle purely of Kenyan design that I can’t even begin to describe. We finally made it to the place for the meeting…only to wait about an hour for the six active members to assemble. Even though each group is supposed to have at least 15 people, this group had pretty much fallen apart due to internal division, lack of understanding of the rules of K-Rep lending, too many members defaulting, and a change in MFO (microfinance officers). The following two and a half hour meeting was an attempt to understand and rectify the problems within the group; by the time we left, I think it was pretty clear that K-Rep had just lost 200,000 shillings because the group was so shattered and disorganized that no one wanted to pay.

On the way to the next group, I was informed that we would be traveling via piki piki – or motorcycle taxi. This pretty much terrified me as piki piki drivers need not have licenses, training, or any sense of direction, but I decided to be a trooper and give it a go. Needless to say, within the first 5 minutes of riding, I had managed to burn my ankle on the exhaust pipe and was just praying we’d make it to the destination alive. Well, we made it alive… but not to our destination. Evidently the piki piki driver had misunderstood Josephat’s clear commands and took me to the wrong place. Not knowing where in the heck I was supposed to be, I called Josephat and tried to get directions… but his phone disconnected for some reason. Then I gave up – paid the driver and caught a matatu back to Kakamega, and went to the FSD office just to take a breather. Kirsten was awesomely sympathetic and lunch with her was great. I walked home at the end of the day… just reveling in how “bad” the day had been, and yet how happy I was just to be alive and to be here in Kenya.

March 5, 2010: Trip to Kisumu

New Adventure Day (as if everyday in Kenya wasn’t a new adventure anyway!)! Penina left yesterday for Nairobi and Kirsten and the other interns for the forest (Kakamega National Forest that is), so today, Nick, Damaris, and I got started early with a very cramped and bumpy matatu ride (1 1/2 hrs) south to Kisumu. Kisumu is Kenya’s third largest city and is the Kenyan home to Lake Victoria. After a short tour of the city, we went to a hotel/resort called Kiboko Bay for some much needed relaxation and picture taking. In a flip flop from a couple of days ago, this experience was on the more luxurious side of life. We ate a very tasty, non-Kenyan lunch and spent the afternoon swimming… in the pool! Lake Victoria is notorious for its ever-giving gift of Bilharzia. Despite the SPF 50 and multiple applications, the equatorial sun is so strong that an hour or two is enough to turn the skin a bit pink! Lake Victoria is beautiful, albeit muddy, and it has these really cool grass islands that float around on top of the water. The bumpiest, most terrifying, neck-breaking, awesome ride on a tuk-tuk (indescribable vehicle of African creation that’s primarily a few pieces of metal soddered together on top of a motorcycle) soon followed and another two hour matatu ride back to Kakamega. Cost of bus ride? 200 KSH or about $3!

General observations:

  • I think driving to most Kenyans is simply a game of “how close can I get to this object/person without actually hitting them?!?!”
  • There’s a gecko climbing up the wall of my room right now – I wonder if he’ll sell me some matatu-riding insurance….
  • Bringing a deck of cards was BRILLIANT
  • OBAMA-MANIA here is ridiculous – I actually got called Michelle Obama yesterday…. AND.. they have “Obama underwear.” I’m not sure if this is amazing or just sad. I’m pretty sure if the US ever decided to kick Mr. Obama out he’d have another country to run in 2.5 seconds.
  • Hoping the internet and the electricity works is a daily activity here.